And we’re back for more egg-ducation! (that one was a stretch, huh)
The chemistry behind the common egg is so wonderful and complex, I could probably go on for a while. I will try and keep this sweet, succinct, and (hopefully) captivating. How is it that we start with a loose, liquid and end up with a huge range of textures simply by applying heat or agitation?
“One love, one heart…let’s get together and feel alright”- Bob Marley
Proteins love bonding with each other. It is like a hippie commune once that heat starts rising. Before that, the egg begins as essentially two separate sacs of fluid: the yolk and the white. Each one containing REALLY long protein chains that are all curled up into themselves, suspended in a LOT of water molecules. The water takes up a lot of space, and the protein chains keep to themselves in their tight little compact knots. When we heat the egg, (and let’s recap from high school chemistry that heat causes things to : : m o v e : : and : : c o l l i d e : : ) not only do we start to disrupt these protein chains, but we start to get rid of some of that water via evaporation. Once the proteins start dancing, and they have more space…they open up! What this provides us with is structure. There is still a lot of water, but now the water molecules are suspended in a mesh-like network of loosey-goosey proteins. This is called coagulation. Taken too far (as in, overcooking) this can lead to the proteins getting a little too close and we remove too much water- resulting in a rubbery white and a egg yolk that may as well be a stick of chalk.
Still with me?
This coagulation situation is very sensitive to the addition of other ingredients, which is when we start playing master composer in the kitchen with our eggs…sometimes we get some unpleasant surprises.
Liquid dairy and sugar – These will dilute your eggs even more, which raises the thickening temperature. (delaying the coagulation we’re looking for) This is ideal in custards, or something that is going to be slow baked. You are doing yourself a disservice by adding any liquids to your breakfast eggs- not only are you risking a very messy cooking situation but you also may find that same liquid later on on your plate, creeping onto your fruit and toast. Anyone else supremely bothered by this besides me?
Citrus, acids, and salt – There is a common misconception that salt and acids will make your eggs too firm, but it actually does the opposite. Acids and salts play around bit with the electrical tuning of the proteins and water molecules, making them able to get together quicker but not as close together. This gives us a more delicate texture, but we have to keep a careful watch. Try adding a couple drops of lemon juice to your next omelette and see if you can notice a difference!
Ok, science class is over. Tell me how to cook those suckers to PERFECTION!
We need to start with some very basic bidniss…The phrase “boiling an egg” seems to imply that we should actually boil an egg. Let me blow your mind: You should never, ever, boil an egg. Unless that is, you enjoy sulphuric chalk yolks and gummy whites.
Turbulent water does the following to your precious egg:
Bounces it around
Cracks it (sometimes)
Overcooks it (almost always)
Unevenly distributes heat
The “secret” to lovely, soft yolks and tender, pillowy whites in a “boiled” egg…not boiling it.
Perfect (not) Boiled Eggs
A heavy-bottomed pot
Enough water to JUST submerge eggs by a half inch
Eggs (do not stack or overcrowd)
Bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes
Start by bringing your water to 212F (a very soft boil). Remove the pot from the heat. Add your eggs, carefully placing them. Cover pot with a lid and choose a time:
8 minutes for “coddled” or very runny yolk
10 minutes for “soft-boil” or “molle”
12 minutes for “hard boil”
Add 30 seconds to cooking time for XL or Jumbo eggs.
When your timer is up, remove the eggs and place them in the cold water for 30 minutes before peeling.
The Peeling Problem – This advice is going to sound weird but, use old eggs! The pH of the egg changes the longer it sits in your fridge- and strangely enough this works in your favor when it comes to cooking and peeling. If you only have fresh eggs and are really having the crave, add a teaspoon of baking soda to your cooking water. Mind you- it will make your eggs a little smelly but it should make peeling a lot easier.
Next time… Cracking the egg, mastering the meringue, and why soufflé shouldn’t scare anyone.